Thursday, June 28, 2012

ANTI ISLAM TELEVISION (AIT)






I will disappoint the readers who are expecting to see part 3 of 2012 Democracy Day Church Service on this page today, by discussing the above topic in relation to a broadcast that this anti-Islam station aired penultimate Monday in its FOCUS NIGERIA programme concerning Islamic Banking. I will resume my discourse on the church service afterwards.


The programme, in the words of the anchor, Mr Gbenga Aruleba, was centred on the legal ‘pronouncement of a Federal High Court in Abuja on the constitutionality or otherwise of the Islamic banking system. According to Justice Gabriel Kolawole, this runs contrary to the spirit and letter of the Nigerian Constitution.’


In the AIT studios to discuss this sensitive subject matter, on the one hand, was one Elder David Ogu, a former commissioner with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); he is also an investment banker. And on the other was Ben-Bright Mpukma, ‘a professional colleague’ of Gbenga’s, a ‘publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Watchdog Reporters.’


So, from the outset, from the composition of the panel, it was apparent that Anti Islam Television (AIT) was set to do their inherent occupation: presentation of biased position, perversion of facts and rendering subjective analyses against Islam. The opinion expressed by this one-sided, all-Christian and non-expert panel reminded the viewer of the verse: ‘Hatred is revealed by the utterance of their mouths, but that which their hearts conceal is greater.’ (Qur’an 3:118). Who was expecting AIT to invite an expert in Islamic banking in order to educate and present a balanced standpoint on the issue? What do you anticipate from the Anti Islam Television? Both the discussants and the presenter of the programme ended up leaving no one with any knowledge of the subject matter in doubt as to their unfamiliarity with the concept and modus operandi of the Islamic Financial System.


The attack was first directed at the CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, for ‘promoting a purely religious financial institution, because ‘Christians can rise up and say we need a Christian bank, and atheists can rise up and say we need atheist bank.’ Why should CBN be the one to promote ‘Ja’iz Bank? The bank has never made any advert until tomorrow….’




The AIT panel does not know the difference between a promoter and a regulator. In carrying out its statutory responsibility of licensing, regulating and supervising all forms of banking business in Nigeria allowed by the law, the CBN is duty-bound to maintain ‘public confidence in the banking industry’ and ‘to create public awareness of this new banking model and product.’ Our learned AIT discussants confused awareness-generation with advocacy! The only reason Sanusi had to vehemently defend the CBN’s decision was when it was apparent that there was an agenda at play; the now familiar give-a-dog-a-bad-name-to-hang-it routine that greeted the introduction of Shari’ah in Northern Nigeria was playing out again. Never mind the merits or constitutionality of it.


There was a similar incident in Germany during the second BAFIN Conference of 10th May, 2012 in Frankfurt. The German Financial Authority was attacked for ‘promoting and marketing Islamic financial products; that such exercise should be left for the affected banks and institutions to do it by themselves. As if one is quoting verbatim from the AIT programme under discussion. ‘We need to express interest in Islamic finance’, answered Peter Baier of the German Financial Authority, ‘because as regulators, we have to open up to new developments in global financial landscape in which Islamic finance is one such new developments, and it is gaining a lot of relevance in Europe. It is not a matter of promotion; it is a matter of waking up to our responsibilities as supervisors and regulators.’ How instructive! Even Sanusi could not have added anything to this succinct response.


On the allegation of Ja’iz Bank not making any advert ‘until tomorrow’ as put forward by Ben-Bright, it is sad that Gbenga refused to be guided by his professional honesty, if he has any left, in refuting this for the fact that Ja’iz Bank has placed numberless advertisements on both print and electronic media. Will it be that keeping mute on this aspect of Ja’iz’s activities was part of the contract signed between AIT and the covert sponsors of that programme? Why did Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) place paid advertorials on national dailies, just 2 days after this infamous AIT programme, praising and anointing Justice Gabriel Kolawole (a Christian, by the way) for his judgement against Islamic banking? Is there an unbroken chain of strategy aimed at nipping Ja’iz Bank in the court judgement being a precursor to the AIT programme and then the spiritual merit award by CAN in paid advertorials to the Justice for his pronouncement?


Gbenga spoke on disparity between Soludo’s guidelines on non-interest banking ‘and not an Islamic one’, and those of Sanusi… who, according to Gbenga, ‘brought a different guideline with a religious cloak.’ The presenter then put a question to Elder David, ‘Is there any difference between non-interest bank and a Shariah compliant bank?’


Elder David’s response only emphasised his hatred for the system, and not answer the question. ‘Such products’, he said, ‘should be killed on the first day. What do you mean by non-interest? Even some Muslims have been receiving interest in their deposits from Nigerian banks.’


Let me help Elder David. The guidelines Gbenga was referring to were two documents one drafted during Soludo’s tenure, and the other, an improvement on the draft during Sanusi’s tenure. What Gbenga does not know is that Soludo’s draft has more Islamic content than Sanusi’s amended version, and not the other way round. Gbenga has either not read the said guidelines or has chosen to be mischievous by distorting the contents. Soludo’s draft did not recognise any non-interest banking other than that of ‘Shari’ah banking system.’ It was Sanusi’s revised standard version that re-defined ‘Non-Interest Banking as a universal set, with two subsets viz: non-interest Islamic banking and non-Islamic non-interest banking’ in order to be more encompassing and accommodating to other options in case the Christians, the Jews or for that matter, the atheists for instance, wish to have their own workable and established financial system. Of course we know there is no such thing in their religion; all the same let us be fair to all.


Sanusi also removed ‘Shari’ah due to sensitivities, and’ substituted ‘it with Islamic commercial jurisprudence.’ In addition, Shariah Advisory Committees provided by the framework for every non-interest financial institution was substituted with Advisory Committees of Experts for the same reason.   Gbenga should therefore study his notes very well to avoid exposing his poor education or the lack of it on this matter to the whole world.


When asked the question on the difference between non-interest bank and Islamic bank Ben-Bright did better by saying ‘It is the same.’ But Elder David interjected and said ‘It’s better to encourage already existing banks to have “ethical products” than to have a bank established specifically for the purpose.’


Obviously, it is the word Islam that he does not want to be part of the appellation. But even Ja’iz Bank does not call itself Islamic either. There is no place that the word Islamic appears in either its cheque book or deposit slip. The Bank and Other Financial Institutions Act (BOFIA) of 1991 (as amended) states that: ‘without the written consent of the CBN Governor’ no bank may be incorporated or registered under the name Islamic, Christian, Qur’anic or Biblical etc.’ What is interesting here is that though this act empowers the CBN Governor to grant his written assent for Ja’iz Islamic Bank, for example, Sanusi did not do that. The bank remains only as Ja’iz Bank. Our uninformed panel, from the beginning to the end of the programme kept referring to Ja’iz as Ja’iz Islamic Bank which is not the registered name of the bank!


Though Elder David was a commissioner in SEC he is ignorant of the fact that the CBN is not alone in allowing banks to go into the realm of Islamic finance. NAICOM has licensed up to three insurance institutions to provide Islamic insurance services called Takaaful. SEC has also licensed Islamic fund management entities and has released the rules governing the operation of Islamic funds. Conventional banks are also venturing into this realm. Alongside Ja’iz, the CBN has also licensed Stanbic IBTC Plc to set up a window for non-interest (Islamic) banking services, in line with what obtains in ‘major western international financial institutions’ which ‘include HSBC, Citigroup, Standard Chartered, BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank, Lloyds Banking Group, Tokyo Marine Insurance, Swiss Re etc.’ I am sure these banks are not owned by Muslims nor are the heads of their central banks Muslims.



Still on the name, Elder David said ‘We should call it non-interest or ethical. That is what is used all over the world.’ This is false! It is true that Turkey refers to Islamic banks as Participation Banks; and Saudi Arabia does not allow a bank to call itself Islamic because it does not want the name of Islam to be used in a commercial sense, even though it has Islamic banks like Al Jazeerah Bank, Al Bilad Bank, Al Rajihi, etc all operating the Islamic banking system. All other countries where these kinds of institutions are in operation refer to these banks as Islamic banks. These countries include the UK (which is the 8th country in the world in terms of Islamic finance assets), Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany and France. In Africa, there are Islamic banks in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Botswana, South Africa, Mauritius, Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Benin, Niger etc. In Asia, outside the Muslim majority countries it is offered in Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Japan and South Korea. It is also offered in the US and Australia’, in myriad names, so, what is wrong with the name Ja’iz Bank? All any half-educated, semi-literate man has to do is “Google” what I am claiming here to confirm or refute them. In   fact, the Islamic Bank of Britain is well-known in London as it has a branch on the popular Edgware Road shown here:







                           ISLAMIC BANK OF BRITAIN






Another allegation was that of text-messages announcing recruitment purportedly sent by Ja’iz Bank to Muslims and urging them to ‘forward only to Muslim brothers and Sisters.’ Unfortunately, our AIT panel was not honest enough to state that Ja’iz Bank has responded swiftly to disown that text-message and urged recipients to disregard it. Muslims and non-Muslims are welcome to Ja’iz Bank; nobody is discriminated against. Part of the amendments of Sanusi on Soludo’s draft was the inclusion of ‘a non-discrimination clause’ to inhibit such non-interest banks from discriminating against anybody on the basis of religion or ethnicity. This clause says that: no person shall on account of his race, religion or geographical location be discriminated against by these institutions whether as promoter, shareholder, employee or customer.  Let the Anti-Islam Television produce proof of anyone that suffers any form of discrimination on account of their faith; I trust the CBN is sure to impose sanction as this is against the regulation establishing the bank.


The truth, the Arabs say, is what even the enemy affirms. AIT’s anti-Islamic banking panel had to admit, in spite of itself, that ‘it is beneficial to a section of our society’ like ‘our brothers in the South East who cannot cope with the rigours of conventional banks due to high interest rate, can benefit from non-interest bank’; that there are 75 countries where 435 institutions are operating Islamic banking system’; so, ‘that means it is something that has merit.’ Gbenga then put the question ‘What do we need to do here that will make our own as beneficial to our economy as it is doing to economies around the world?’


The response: it is working elsewhere because, according to Elder David, ‘their manpower is trained to understand the characteristics of the product.’ And for the first time, I agree with Elder David, and the CBN is aiming at exactly the same thing by making it part of the guidelines that our banks must sign at least a 3 year technical agreement with another bank already in the field. To this end Ja’iz has ratified a technical working agreement with the Islamic Bank of Bangladesh (IBBL). As for Stanbic IBTC, it does not have to sign any such contract due to its experience in Islamic bank operations in Tanzania, South Africa among other countries.


The AIT panel concluded that ‘Islamic bank cannot survive in this country; because it does not ‘fix profit because it is not religiously prudent’; the principle of ‘profit and loss sharing’ of Islamic bank will not succeed in the Nigerian setting. ‘That is what we’ve been telling them…’ said Elder David, ‘profit sharing in a loosely religious sentimental situation is a recipe for disaster. Unless you are chief accountant of the borrower’, you cannot monitor the capital. That is what made ‘such Islamic banks found it difficult for a very long time to raise equity, because nobody believed in what they are trying to do. If a bank that charges interest can go under, how about one that is socialistic in nature, in a capitalist country? It will create further risks in the banking system.’


This is only the ranting of self-acclaimed soothsayers of doom for Islamic banks in Nigeria. If these banks are billed to go under because of the nature of the model under which they operate which is based principally on profit and loss sharing, how come Islamic banks all over the world are registering an average growth rate of 10-15% in assets, deposits and customer base, at a time when most conventional banks are growing at only single digit rates of growth? From a few billions, the global assets of Islamic financial institutions have hit the USD 1 trillion mark and are expected to reach USD 1.8 trillion by the end of this year! Islamic banking is a business enterprise not a socialistic or philanthropic venture as this misinformed panel misperceived. Allow the people who want to do the business to do it. It is their money.


The CBN as a regulator knows from its expertise in banking regulation that this is a viable banking business that is why it is licensing it. Let me here paraphrase Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest financial system that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Strangely enough, the man responsible for drafting the amended guidelines is a staunch Christian. The decision to adopt all those policies and guidelines was also ratified at the highest level of the CBN where matters are put to the vote and where the Christians outnumber the Muslims. Of course these facts are carefully kept away from those they wish to misinform.


A lot of the negative projection of anything Islamic in this country is based on Islamophobia. Why can we not live and let others also live?

 


            

Thursday, June 7, 2012

I WILL STILL FLY DANA AIR



I have not fully recovered from the shock many experienced when they first heard about the crash of Boeing McDonnell Douglas (MD) – 83 of Dana Air, and the death of 153 passengers, six members of the crew and more than 30 residents of Iju-Ishaga, Lagos. The shock is persisting in my mind; on the point of abating the distress you will be roused by a phone call updating you on the list of people who lost their lives, their closeness to the caller, how they spent their farewell encounter during this last visit to Abuja, or by the publication of increase in death toll as more bodies are recovered from the rubble – now well over 200.


I empathise with all that lost loved ones in this national tragedy, and may Allah grant us all, as we pass through this painful experience, the ability to endure the bitterness that this great loss occasioned.


As I was about to write this piece, my newspaper, LEADERSHIP, on the Front Page comment (Our Stand) of its Tuesday June 5th edition, called for the grounding of ‘all Dana Air’s Planes Today’. (And as if in compliance with this editorial directive the Senate ordered the Federal Government (FG) to ground Dana Airline…; the FG grounded the fleet, and even withdrew Dana Air’s operating license). The reason for LEADERSHIP’s position…and that of the government’s swift reaction…? Dana Air, in clear violation of Nigeria’s air safety regulations that banned all aircrafts aged over 20 years, the Indian-owned company operated aged aircraft that were manufactured over 22 years ago. The aircraft maintenance engineer’s advice against flying the ill-fated plane was ignored by ‘the Indians’. The editorial ended by saying: ‘Human life has been so cheapened in Nigeria that even foreigners are not afraid to waste it. Now, the time has come for the federal government to prove them wrong. It should deal decisively with the Indian-owned Dana this time round. It will serve as deterrence for other operators.’


I’m not holding brief for any lapses on the part of Dana Air, but I reject the insinuation in the above comment of ‘foreigners not afraid to waste’ the cheapened lives of Nigerians. The crash did not occur because Dana Air is Indian-owned. As a matter of fact, Dana Air, though owned by Indians, is after all a Nigerian company. Dana Air would not try any act of operational negligence it is being accused of if it was operating in India; if it was operating in any serious country where laws are made to be obeyed and not to be flouted. Certain things, therefore, could only happen in Nigeria. It may be that Dana was able to learn quickly how to do business in Nigeria, and to evade Nigerian air safety rules with the right inducement to the aviation authorities! So, NCAA, NAMA, FAAN should be questioned on how Dana Air was allowed to fly an aircraft overdue for maintenance, and in ‘bad shape’, nay, overdue for the aeroplanes’ graveyard. Why it is only after precious lives have been lost that NCAA is launching ‘a comprehensive safety and financial audit of all local airlines operating in Nigeria, so as to determine whether they ought to be in business or not’? That is precisely how not to be a regulator! We have become, as a nation, a bunch of knee-jerk alarmists.


On the ban of aircrafts beyond 20 years of age from operating in the Nigerian airspace it will be interesting to know how many of the companies in this industry will pass the litmus test. We are in for unpleasant surprises as the nation awaits the outcome of ‘a holistic investigation’ of the entire feet of airline companies operating in Nigeria, as ordered by the National Assembly. Of course like the fate suffered by its predecessors the report of the Dana Air disaster will not be implemented; nobody will be sanctioned; it will soon be business as usual. This is Nigeria where everything goes! I don’t know what happened to the Bellview and Sosoliso crash reports despite the fact that they claimed more lives. We gathered then, as now, that the aircrafts were overage too. The same DG was in charge of the NCAA then as now. Again this in no way exonerates Dana; it is only to show that the malpractice cannot be confined to one airline; especially Dana, lest we be seen as closet xenophobes or even racists.


I concede there is need for investigation that may lead to how future mishaps could be averted, but have we ever learnt any lesson from past reports and recommendations? Have you heard anything about the report of the Royal Jordanian Airlines flight 707 that crashed in Kano and killed 171 Nigerian Muslims returning from Mecca and 5 crewmen in January 22, 1973? And if you think that the Royal Jordanian is another foreign-owned company, then, pray, tell me what happened to the report of the Nigeria Airways DC-8-61 plane that crashed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia from system failure and killed 261 pilgrims on board, in July 11, 1991? Where is the report of the Nigerian Air Force A C-130 plane that fell minutes after take-off from Lagos killing all 200 passengers on board, in September 26, 1992? I am sure we can easily remember what occurred in December 10, 2005 with a Nigerian (not foreign) ADC (Aviation Development Corporation) Airline Boeing 727-231 flying from Port Harcourt to Lagos with 142 passengers and 9 crew members that crashed on landing, plunging into a lagoon; there were no survivors. And the report…? No action was taken on the report, the airline was not grounded ‘today’; its license was not withdrawn 'for safety operational reason’ as we saw in the case of Dana Air, and which gave ADC Airline, in just a year, the chance to kill more people in yet another crash in October 29, 2006 with another of its flight a Boeing 737 with 104 passengers on board. The plane crashed minutes after take-off from Abuja airport during a rain storm. All but 6 perished in the disaster including the then Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido. And last but not least, the Nigerian Sosoliso Airlines DC-9 crashed in Port Harcourt, killing all 103 passengers on board most of whom were schoolchildren going home for Christmas, in December 10, 2005.


So, air mishaps occur not due to foreign-ownership of aircraft companies, but because the agencies saddled with ensuring our safety on sky decided to look the other way when our lives were at risk. Dana Air, though a new entrant into the market, has been able to raise standards of operation in the business of local air travel in this country. As a frequent traveller to Lagos and then out of Lagos, I have not had cause to regret flying Dana Air once. This is due to the efficient services I get from Dana Air from Abuja to Lagos and back. Dana Air was always right on schedule!


The only thing I personally find objectionable in Dana Air in the subtle presence Buddhist emblems and symbols in its aircraft. As a Muslim, of course, I will take exception to that; and I think even my Christian friends will not like that. We are a largely Christian-Muslim nation. Buddhists are free to practise their faith but I would rather they didn’t shove it in our faces. Other than this Dana Air is my choice any day, for at least I’m certain to some extent when I will depart from destination A and my expected time of arrival at destination B. Dana Air is not one of the Nigerian airlines that will make you stay at the departure lounge for hours on end without adequate information on why your flight is delayed. Dana Air does not lie about flight delays with the euphemism of operational reasons: you depart on schedule bearing normal unavoidable deferment during boarding or take off. While on board, the snacks served are fresh, the drinks, the bottled water chilled and almost everything is branded in Dana Air colours and logo, even the sweets offered after meals are manufactured by a subsidiary of the Dana Group. This is how corporate businesses should be run; set the standard of effective service delivery entity; become the envy of competitors! Once I and my family missed our Dana Air flight to Lagos and had to travel by a Nigerian-owned aircraft. When it was time for what they call light refreshment a member of the crew came and asked us what we would have. After serving us she brought a mini calculator and proudly announced: ‘Sir your bill is three thousand five hundred naira.’


‘Bill… for what my sister?’ I enquired


‘Our snacks and drinks are chargeable sir’; was the response.


That was not Dana Air; we regretted missing it even more. And we had to pay for the light refreshment. How can children understand that they cannot have the drink on board because it is chargeable?


The rickety aircraft wobbled and shook like a man just out of a river in winter until we reached Lagos. My heart nearly jumped out of my mouth with fear. I want to know the age of that plane. I have been in another which had seats so tattered I could see the foam and other items ordinarily not intended for the passengers’ view. As if that was not enough, a European passenger tapped my shoulder after a while to warn me of my new guest; a grown cockroach had just emerged from inside the seat!


According to newspapers on Wednesday 6th June 2012, it turned out that Dana’s ‘400-hourly check (A-Check) was on May 30th, while the statutory annual maintenance (C-Check) was not due till this September. The certificate of Airworthiness issued by the NCAA after the last C-Check was still very valid as at the time of the incident…’


Asking Demuren to step aside until investigations are over is a right decision; after all you shouldn’t be a judge in your own case. Investigating all airlines is a good decision; even it is so overdue I am seething with rage at the thought that it was not routine and rigorous but cursory and almost none existent. Seizing the operating license of Dana before concluding investigations looks to me like a pronouncement of guilt before the investigation has started.


Some would argue that if one of their planes crashed due to negligence, there is no assurance that another would not crash the same way. That is valid but there is another side to that valid argument; if NCAA was complicit in giving a certificate of airworthiness to an obviously dying plane in the Dana fleet, there is no assurance that it hasS not done so with other airlines. Therefore, our conclusion should be that ALL airlines in operation on Nigeria’s domestic routes should be grounded now! If we make exception for others, then we should make exception for all. What is more practical is to ground all planes that are over 20 years old and above and investigate the airworthiness of the remaining - across board. Singling Dana out will smell of something more sinister than mere regulatory activity and sanction.


By the way, Mr Sam Nda- Isaiah whom I respect a lot should beware lest he be seen to be advocating the demise of a rival airline to one in which he has substantial interest. That will come off as a clash of interest and misuse of journalism to achieve personal ends.